“Esophageal cancer is rare.” Yes, esophageal cancer is rare when compared to other cancers such as lung, breast and prostate.
However, unlike other cancers, esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma) is the fastest growing cancer in the Western World.
It has increased over 600% in the past decades. While esophageal cancer is currently “rare”, more and more people are becoming affected by this deadly cancer. We predict that if appropriate actions are not taken, esophageal cancer will run rampant and become widespread.
Some researchers say that this tremendous increase in esophageal cancer diagnoses “may be due to an increase in the number of people who develop gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which contents from the stomach, such as acid, move up into the esophagus repeatedly, causing chronic inflammation.” Other risk factors of esophageal cancer include poor diet, obesity, smoking and consuming large amounts of alcohol regularly.
“This rise has been associated with the increase of the obese population, as abdominal fat puts extra pressure on the stomach and causes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Long standing GERD can induce esophagitis and metaplasia and ultimately, lead to adenocarcinoma. Until now, acid suppression has been the main strategy to treat GERD; however, it has not been proven to control esophageal malignancy effectively. In fact, its side effects have triggered multiple warnings from regulatory agencies. The high mortality and fast growth of esophageal cancer demand more vigorous efforts to look into its deeper mechanisms and come up with better therapeutic options.” (Esophageal malignancy: A growing concern, Jianyuan Chai and M Mazen Jamal, World J Gastroenterol. Dec 7, 2012; 18(45): 6521–6526.)
Raising awareness of these risk factors associated with esophageal cancer may help to reduce the number of people diagnosed. Also, it is important that people become proactive about their health by eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet which is high in whole foods and low in processed foods, exercising according to their doctor’s recommendation, avoiding all tobacco products, limiting alcohol consumption and for those with acid reflux disease, properly treating GERD. Awareness of symptoms associated with esophageal cancer is equally as important as knowing the risk factors.
Symptoms can include:
o Dysphasia (difficulty swallowing),
o Chronic heartburn or indigestion,
o Frequent choking while eating,
o Chest pain, pressure or burning,
o Unexplained weight loss,
o Cough or hoarseness,
o Coughing up blood.
Often times, esophageal cancer is diagnosed after a person begins to experience any of the symptoms described above. When esophageal cancer is found very early, there is a better chance of recovery. Unfortunately, the majority of patients do not experience any symptoms in the early stages of esophageal cancer. “When most people are diagnosed, the cancer is well advanced.”
This makes esophageal cancer one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Esophageal cancer has an overall 5 year survival rate of only 17.5%. Stage IV esophageal cancer has a survival rate of only 3.8%. Educating the public regarding the symptoms associated with esophageal cancer and encouraging those who are at risk to seek out screening as early as possible will better the chances of survival for those who are diagnosed.
Lastly, the cure lies in research. Currently, esophageal cancer is among the least funded of all cancers, both from government funding and other charities. The National Cancer Institute decreased its investment in research of esophageal cancer by 15% in 2012. In 2014, The American Cancer Society reports on their website that they currently fund 1,165 cancer research projects; however, only 8 of these projects are for esophageal cancer research.
Funding research projects which are aimed at improving current prevention techniques and diagnosis methods and treatment options is the key to saving lives and ultimately finding a cure.
Instead of treating esophageal cancer like it is a “rare” cancer, let’s treat esophageal cancer as what it truly is, the fastest growing cancer in the western world. At the rate it is increasing and with the lack of awareness, early detection and research funding, esophageal cancer won’t be rare for long.
Sources:cancer.net cancer.gov cancer.org ncbi.nlm.nih.gov aats.org medicalnewstoday.com mskcc.org